The November/December IEEE Power & Energy Magazine features an article by Ambra Sannino titled, The three Ds: Do they describe the energy transition? In it, Sannino talks about decarbonization, decentralization, and digitization, and introduces a 4th “D,” diversity, pointing out that to succeed, the energy transition must be interdisciplinary, global, equal and diverse. I appreciated the expansion of thought in the description of the energy transition and wanted to dig a little deeper into digitalization and diversity from a specific point of view.
As Sannino mentions, digitalization has been worked on for the past 15 years under the code word “smart grid.” We are looking at an autonomous system, big data analytics, distributed architectures, and much more.
Impact on real-time systems
Sounds exciting until you live in the world of deploying and maintaining real-time systems. New technologies in OT/IT have always been evolving, but the frequency of vendor and internal deployments has been increasing and putting stress on the organizations and processes that have been delivering for decades.
Whether you see project management approaches changing from waterfall to agile, watching product release cycles shift from years to months, or leveraging containers and container management tools like Kubernetes, the change is accelerating.
Sannino keys on diversity, talking about involving many disciplines like social sciences and psychology to promote social acceptance of new technologies. Carrying this forward, we can see what has been called DevOps in other high-tech environments starting to creep into traditional real-time systems. I believe this is happening based on the definition of DevOps as being disciplined, iterative and fast. On paper, this appears to be the right direction for vendors and utilities as the landscape of new field equipment integration and systems rapidly changes, as long as there is no sacrifice to reliability which is the main deliverable.
The obvious challenge is that many of these real-time systems support human-machine interaction, and if not correct, it can cause harm to humans and damage to equipment. This is one reason that technical reviews, specific and tedious testing approaches, and implementations that lean on low-impact field testing have been leveraged.
We need the same kind of interdisciplinary support beyond engineering to those building, deploying, maintaining and operating these increasingly digitized systems.
Having diverse voices across our organizations will deliver more tangible benefits, including more job opportunities in the renewables sector, higher salaries for workers, more and better services in underrepresented communities, and much more.
So, I propose to get digitization right, we need diversity! Only then will we have a shot at the first “D,” decarbonization.